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Empire Style

We hope you’re having as much as we are exploring the history of American furniture!  We last took a look at the Federal/Neoclassical era which featured such rooms as the Haverhill Room.  The clean lines, delicate forms, geometric shapes, contrasting veneers, and decorative inlays of Federal-period furniture represent a dramatic shift away from the sinuous Rococo carving that had typified American decorative arts for the previous thirty years and found in period rooms from the second half of the eighteenth century.  Today we’ll look at American Empire which was a French-inspired Neoclassical style of American furniture and decoration that takes its name and originates from the Empire style introduced during the First French Empire period under Napoleon’s rule.

American Empire style gained its greatest popularity in the United States after 1810 and is technically considered a more robust version of the Neoclassical period.  As an early-19th-century design movement in the United States, it encompassed architecture, furniture and other decorative arts, as well as the visual arts.  The Empire style was most notably exemplified by the work of New York cabinetmakers Duncan Phyfe and Paris-trained Charles-Honoré Lannuier. Other major furniture centers renowned for regional interpretations of the American Empire style were Boston, Philadelphia, and Baltimore.

Characteristics of the American Empire style cabinet making include antiquities-inspired carving, gilt-brass furniture mounts, and decorative inlays such as stamped-brass banding with egg-and-dart, diamond, or Greek-key patterns, or individual shapes such as stars or circles.  As time passed, this style became more elaborate, particularly between 1815 and 1825, and grew to include columns with rope-twist carving, animal-paw feet, anthemion, stars, and acanthus-leaf ornamentation, sometimes in combination with gilding and vert antique (antique green, simulating aged bronze). The Red Room at the White House is a great example of this.


There was also a simplified version of the American Empire style referred to as the Grecian style.  This style plainer surfaces in curved forms, highly figured mahogany veneers, and sometimes gilt-stencilled decorations. Many examples of this style survive, exemplified by massive chests of drawers with scroll pillars and glass pulls, work tables with scroll feet and ‘fiddleback’ chairs. Elements of the style enjoyed a brief revival in the 1890s with, particularly, chests of drawers and vanities or dressing tables, usually executed in oak and oak veneers.

Stay tuned for more furniture facts and fun and if there’s anything you’d like to learn more about, leave us a comment or email and let us know!  Remember you can always drop by our website or come by our store anytime to find the perfect set of furniture for yourself!